Europe’s biggest bike shop

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting Europe’s largest bike shop. The massive Chain Reaction Cycles in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Like most cyclist out there, I have used CRC many times, their service being the area in which they mostly impressed me over the years. Availability of products not listed anywhere else, and the products being on your doormat the next day.

My reason for visiting though, is that CRC is one of the most often mentioned companies in my job as International Sales Manager for a bike accessory brand. The complaint normally is that local shops cannot compete, and that their pricing policy puts local shops out of business. They are seen as some sort of Tesco / Walmart -esque monster eating into and destroying the local shops. It is a view that I have heard again and again, and while it is one with which I do not agree (I firmly believe that there are both price sensitive customers, and customers who are less price sensitive and that concentrating on what someone else is doing is not the correct approach. Look at your own strategy and what you can do to win and retain custom yourself) it occurred to me that I had never heard CRC’s side of the argument.

For that reason I travelled to Belfast last Tuesday (wow, really slow updating when I am in the UK) to see what they did and how it was run.  I was massively impressed – not just by the size of their setup, but by their enthusiasm and passion for what they are doing.  I took a couple of minutes to stop and talk to a guy in their workshop.  He was a wheel builder, and told me that he builds somewhere in the region of 60 wheels a day.  I could instantly tell, as soon as ask him about them, that he loved his job.  His face and eyes lit up like a little kid when he started talking wheels with me.  Spokes, spoke tensions, etc.  It surprised me, not that someone was that passionate, but that he continues to be, despite the sheer number of builds that he does a day.

CRC is massive, let’s not mess about pretending that it isn’t.  It is a family business though, and it has been built up from a small bike shop in a town centre, just like the one you visit.  Through some brave moves they have built a large and recession busting business.  It is not the evil monster that many pretend that it is.  They are putting money back into the sport.  Sponsoring race series in the United Kingdom (Chain Reaction Cycles Marathon Series), and the have a race team.  They do CycleScheme, and have been known to pay for companies who buy CycleScheme bikes through them to have a shower put in at work for the employees.

Retailers state that ChainReactionCycles are ruining their business, but I simply don’t believe this to be the case.  Internet retailers in every area are growing the market.  Pricing policies are the problem, but those are up to the brands and retailers.  What is happening is that users are becoming aware of new brands, more choice.  It forces everyone to up their game.  More choice usually means that you spend more money, more money means more bikes, more bikes means that all of us profit.


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